24 Hours of Daytona
|Rolex 24 at Daytona|
|Venue||Daytona International Speedway|
|Distance||24 hours (endurance)|
|Previous Names|| Daytona 3 Hour Continental (1962-1963)|
Daytona 2000 (1964-1965)
24 Hours of Daytona (1966-1971)
6 Hours of Daytona (1972)
24 Hours of Daytona (1973, 1975-1977)
24 Hour Pepsi Challenge (1978-1983)
SunBank 24 at Daytona (1984-1991)
The Rolex 24 at Daytona (frequently referred to by its historical title, the 24 Hours of Daytona) is a 24-hour sports car endurance race held annually at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is held on a 3.56-mile combined road course, utilizing portions of the NASCAR tri-oval and an infield road course. Since its inception, it has been held the last weekend of January or first weekend of February, part of Speedweeks, and it is the first major automobile race of the year in the United States.
The race has had several names over the years. Since 1991, the Rolex Watch Co. is the title sponsor of the race under a naming rights arrangement, replacing Sunbank (now SunTrust) which in turn replaced Pepsi in 1984. Winning drivers of all classes receive a steel Rolex Cosmograph watch.
In 2006, the race moved one week earlier into January to prevent a clash with the Super Bowl, which had in turn moved one week later into February a few years earlier. In effect, these two major events switched dates.
In 1962, a few years after the track was built, a 3-hour sports car race was introduced, the Daytona Continental, which counted towards the World Sportscar Championship. The first Continental was won by Dan Gurney, driving a 2.7L Coventry Climax powered Lotus 19, dubbed the Monte Carlo after Stirling Moss bringing Lotus their first Formula One win at Monaco in 1960 despite being a factory driver for Porsche at that time. Many Porsche 718s were driven by privateers, but these 1600 cc cars were considered rather underpowered for a relatively short and fast race despite having won the twisty Targa Florio and the tough 12 Hours of Sebring.
In 1964, the event was expanded to 2000 km (1220 miles), doubling the classic 1000 km distance of races at Nürburgring, Spa and Monza. The distance amounted to roughly the half of the distance the 24 Hours of Le Mans winners covered at the time and was similar in length to the Sebring 12 hour race, which was also held in Florida a few weeks later in the year. Starting in 1966, the Daytona race was extended to the same 24 hour length as Le Mans.
As in the Spa 24 Hours (introduced in 1924) and the 24 Hours Nürburgring (1970), the purpose of the event is to determine which team of drivers can take their sports car the farthest in a fixed time period, rather than the shortest time over a fixed distance as in most conventional auto races.
Unlike the Le Mans event, the Daytona race is conducted entirely over a closed course within the speedway arena without the use of any public streets. Most parts of the steep banking are included, interrupted with a chicane on the back straight and a sweeping, fast infield section which includes two hairpins. As unlike Le Mans, the race is held in wintertime, when nights are at their longest. Lights installed around the circuit to allow night racing (and prime-time television coverage) although the infield section still not as well-lit as the main oval. However, the stadium lights are turned on only to a level of 20%, similar to the stadium lights at Le Mans, where the track is lit similarly, with brighter lights around the pit straight, and decent lighting similar to street lights around the circuit.
A car must cross the finish line after 24 hours to be classified, which leads to dramatic scenes where damaged cars wait in the pits or on the edge of the track close to the finish line for hours, then restart their engines and crawl across the finish line one last time in order to finish after the 24 hours and be listed with a finishing distance, rather than dismissed with DNF (Did Not Finish). This was the case in the initial 1962 Daytona Continental (then 3 hours), when Gurney's Lotus had established a lengthy lead when the engine died, and he parked it at the top of the banking, just short of the finish line. When the three hours had elapsed, Gurney drove the car the last few feet across the finish line using either gravity, the starter motor, or a combination of both (the debate continues to this day) to not only salvage a finishing position, but actually win the race.
After having lost in 1966 both at Daytona and at Le Mans to the Fords, the Ferrari Prototypes staged a triumphant 1-2-3 side-by-side parade finish at the banked finish line in 1967. To celebrate the victory over the rival at his home race, Ferrari named its V12-powered road car Ferrari Daytona after the race.
Porsche repeated this show in their 1-2-3 win in the 1968 24 Hours. After the car of Gerhard Mitter had a big crash caused by tyre failure in the banking, his teammate Rolf Stommelen supported Vic Elford/Jochen Neerpasch. When the car of the longtime leaders Jo Siffert/Hans Herrmann dropped to second due to a technical problem, these two also joined the new leaders while continuing with their car. So Porsche managed to put 5 of 8 drivers on the center of the podium, plus Jo Schlesser/Joe Buzzetta on 3rd place, with only Mitter being left out.
In 1972, due to the energy crisis, the race was shortened to 6 hours, while for 1974 the race was cancelled altogether.
In 1982, following near-continuous inclusion on the World Sportscar Championship, the race was finally dropped as the series attempted to cut costs by both keeping teams in Europe and running shorter races. The race continued on as part of the IMSA GT series.
The regular teams were expanded to 3 pilots in the 1970s. Nowadays, often four or five drivers compete, with occasional "taxi" rides for less lucky team mates adding to the total. The winning entry in 1997 featured as many as seven drivers take a turn in the cockpit.
Grand American & Daytona Prototypes
After ownership problems with IMSA, the Daytona event aligned with the Grand-Am series, a competitor of the American Le Mans Series, which, as its name implies, includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans in its schedule. The series is closely linked to NASCAR and its focus is on controlled costs and close competition.
In order to make sports car racing less expensive than elsewhere, new rules were introduced in 2002. The dedicated Daytona Prototypes do not use expensive materials and technologies and the car's simple aerodynamics reduce the often astronomical costs of development and testing.
Specialist chassis makers like Riley, Doran, Fabcar and Crawford provide the DP cars for the teams and the engines are branded under the names of major car companies like Pontiac, Lexus and Porsche. Unlike elsewhere, the vehicles are designated Engine-Chassis at Daytona (e.g. "Lexus-Riley"), as the chassis makers are rather unknown and do not sell road cars, similar to many specialised race car manufacturers. Changes are being made for 2007, however, with new rules encouraging chassis makers and automobile manufacturers to manufacture special chassis for one type of car only. Such would permit manufacturers to label the cars as prototype versions of their roadgoing brethren.
The Gran Turismo class cars at Daytona are closer to the road versions, similar to the GT3 class elsewhere. For example, the more standard Cup version of the 996 is used, instead of the usual RS/RSR racing versions. Recent Daytona entries also include BMW M3s, Corvettes, Mazda RX-8s and Pontiac GTO.Rs.
In an effort for teams to save money, GT rules have now changed to permit spaceframe cars clad in lookalike body panels to compete in GT (the new Mazda for example, and the forthcoming Infiniti G35). These rules are somewhat similar to the old GTO specification, but with rather more restrictions.
The intent of spaceframe-clad cars is to allow teams to save money -- especially after crashes, where teams can rebuild the cars for the next race at a much lower cost, or even redevelop cars, instead of having to write off an entire car after a crash or at the end of a year.
In the 2006 event, teams which are traditionally linked to Porsche made an effort to "reconquer" Daytona, like Brumos Racing, which has fielded Porsches traditionally numbered as #58 and #59 since the 1970s. Porsche factory drivers were also scattered around the teams running Porsche engines in their DPs, and it was German Lucas Luhr who set the pole position time with the #23 Crawford-Porsche of Alex Job Racing. In the race, the car that was also driven by Mike Rockenfeller and Patrick Long led for some time, but lost time during a repair of a driveshaft, and finished only 3rd ahead of the #58 Red Bull Brumos Fabcar-Porsche with fellow Porsche works driver Sascha Maassen. Two Riley-Lexus finished 1-2, with Target Chip Ganassi's all-star line-up of Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon and Casey Mears taking the overall win.
The GT class saw, as usual, virtually dozens of Porsches, and their faster drivers like Wolf Henzler. The Pontiac GTO.R of experienced team The Racer's Group not only set the GT pole, but also lead much of the early part of the race, battling with the best 911s of the new 997 series, finishing 10th overall ahead of 21 prototypes. The #36 TPC Racing Porsche, driven by Randy Pobst, Driver/Owner Michael Levitas, Ian Baas and Spencer Pumpelly, did three laps more, taking the GT class win plus ninth overall, though. The second best non-Porsche 996 GT was the other TRG GTO.R at 26th overall, 13th in GT.
Star drivers appearances
As the Rolex 24 has a winter date during off-season for other racing series, many top class drivers are able and willing to take part in the Rolex if sponsorship commitments allow this. The track's marketing machine has aggressively sold the roll call of champions, with track officials focusing on the presence of professional-level racing champions and superstars in the race.
Recently retired NASCAR star Rusty Wallace joined IRL star Danica Patrick in the 2006 race, while Tony Stewart has gained a reputation of "checkers or wreckers" after his gallant 2004 drive with a badly stricken car in the lead, while attempting to nurse it to victory with less than 20 minutes remaining, the suspension finally gave up and Stewart crashed. A collapsed rear suspension caused him to crash. Indy 500 champions Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon have also made appearances in the race, with Wheldon's 2006 victory in the Rolex the first time a reigning Indy champion had won the classic. Previous Rolex 24 races have featured Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (the two were paired in the 2001 race, a memorable moment in the history of sportscar racing, and it is said they began this revival of the all-star format,Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Paul Tracy, Sébastien Bourdais, Kurt Busch, Kyle Petty, and stars who have raced in every major form of motorsport.
The drivers seem to enjoy the all-star showdown, although the presence of these "ringers" has, along with the formula governing the cars, drawn the ire of sportscar-racing purists, who tend to view the series as a dumbed-down version of "real" sportscar racing. Many observers, on the other hand, believe the presence of these visiting stars is beneficial. They argue the racing only intensifies when a handful of top-flight drivers from other forms of motorsport decide to take on the road racing aces. For example, the star power added to the field created some passionate driving in the 2006 race.
The 2007 Rolex field is expected to be full of such stars. Jeff Gordon will drive the Wayne Taylor Racing #10 SunTrust Pontiac, with Michael Shank Racing having Indianapolis 500 champions Hélio Castroneves and reigning IRL and Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish, Jr.. Bobby Labonte will pilot the #19 Daytona Prototype. 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series and Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson will drive the #91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac, with sponsorship from Johnson's NASCAR sponsor Lowe's. 1996 CART Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser will drive for the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing squad.
Hornish and Montoya will both reunite with car owners from past endeavours. Hornish drove for Shank in the Champ Car Atlantic Series, while Montoya, fresh from rejoining Chip Ganassi Racing for NASCAR efforts, will drive a Ganassi Target Lexus Riley, likely with the Ganassi IRL team drivers.
2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona
Frequent winning cars (engines) were Porsche with 20 victories scored by various models, even the road based 911, 935 and 996. All other major car making brands had
- five wins: Ferrari '63, '64, '67, '72, '98, Ford '62, '65, '66, '97, '99
- two wins: Chevrolet '69, '01, Jaguar '88, '90, Lexus '06, '07, Nissan '92, '94, Pontiac '04, '05
- one win: BMW '75, Toyota '93, Oldsmobile '96, Dodge Viper '00
† - Races were red flagged during the event due to weather or fog. The official timing of 24 hours did not stop during these periods.